International Travel Packing Basics

The trip is booked, the wait is over and now the final hurdle, Packing. For many men (and women) this is a simple task of throwing clothes into a bag until the bag is full, there you have it, job done. But those methods might have worked when you were a student, where living in the same clothes on the beach for weeks was the accepted norm but no longer, planning and preparation are now required to get the job done.

I have put together a list of some practical advice, how best to pack your bags and get the most out of, or should I say most into a limited travel space.

 

Packing Lists:

 

Making ListsYes, this may seem a little old-fashioned but believe me, this will save you time and unnecessary stress during the packing process. It is important not only for peace of mind but, for some reason, seeing something on paper makes it easier to work with when it comes to details. When I am proofreading important documents, I am always astounded by the errors that I have missed when proofing something on a screen vs when I print it out and mark it with a pen. The same goes for when you do a packing check list, seeing something on paper gives you the edge when checking to see if you have got everything that will be required for your adventure.

Pro Tip: Check the blogs pertaining to the destination that you are travelling to as there might be some special requirements listed there that are essential to a successful stay.

 

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Choose the Right Size:

 

Luggage is expensive, I understand that, but I can tell you that life becomes a lot easier when you have the right size luggage for the duration of the trip. It is also high time that the luggage that has been your faithful travel companion for the last 10 years- but looks more the 20 years- is replaced with something new and fully functional. This is not just to have new or modern luggage but newer versions have design improvements such as better compression straps, better 360 wheels for ease of movement and internal divisions to name just a few.

Airlines are tightening the enforcement of the size and weight of carry-on luggage as some travellers were severely abusing this allowance. I have heard stories that carry-on luggage has been at times heavier than the main luggage of passengers, which is not only impractical but also a safety risk should that bag fall from the overhead compartment. So be mindful that the correct size of checked luggage is becoming more important that it was in the past.

 

Colour Considerations:

 

Colours

Before you even get to the packing stage, a colour palette selection should be a must. This means that it is practical to think of a colour scheme for the holiday that allows for mixing and matching of various garments throughout your journey. This not only makes it easier to choose an outfit in the mornings but also enables you to use, for instance, a pair of jeans or a cardigan top with more than just one outfit. This not only makes things a more flexible but  helps reduce the amount of clothing required for your holiday duration.

Pro Tip: to protect your light-coloured clothing against colour transfer from the darker garments, pack the clothing inside out and together with other light colours if possible. If this is not possible, separate them using either compression bags or ziploc bags as described under the next heading.

 

Compression Bags:

 

Compression BagsThis topic has had mixed reviews from many people. While using a vacuum at home to suck the air out of the bags might be a great idea, this will not last should there be even the slightest hole in the bag and unless you have access to a vacuum before your flight home, you will not be able to easily compress these bag again.

There are compression bags available that provide a small hand-pump that allows you to compress the bags before flying home again. So this is one option, however the idea of taking a pump with me in my luggage is hardly appealing.

I personally opt for rolling compression bags that do not require a pump or vacuum. The advantage of these is that this can be done anywhere I need to without additional equipment however again if there is a hole in the bag, it will re inflate again.

There is also the additional issue of light clothing creasing when rolling. If you are travelling with this type of clothing, it is a good suggestion to check with the hotel beforehand or at check-in if an iron is supplied with the room as creases with be inevitable no matter how hard you try.

 

Zip Lock Bags:

 

These bags are incredibly versatile and handy in keeping all the smaller items together. Things like charger cables that are spare or camera accessories that are not high value and won’t be needed till your arrival at the destination. I also find that putting all my socks and jocks in these bags makes life easy when I am scratching around in my bag for something while in transit. Being grouped logically together is just another practical tip that also assists when unpacking at your designation as one can also use these bags to separate dirty and clean clothing in the same compartment.

Pro Tip: separate your clothing into activity based groupings for easy access i.e. gym outfits, yoga outfits or beach wear. This will assit in keeping the items seperate when they have been used but are not ready for the wash yet.

 

Rolling vs Folding:

 

Rolled ClothingThere are a few advantages of rolling clothing rather than folding them. Rolling not only reduces the space an item requires but also assists in crease reduction. When you fold a garment, there will be lines that are creased into it and when you take it out, these will be very obvious unless you press them out in your hotel room – lets face it, chores on holiday are not appealing. By rolling garments, these lines are not pressed into the garment so you look fresh and clean at your destination. No chores means more beach time.

Rolling enables you to better fit different sized items together. When folding garments flat, it requires a large flat profile which is difficult to pack into odd shaped spaces or in a way to reduce creasing. So roll the garments for a better fit and less hassle when unpacking.

 

Paper vs Plastic:

 

I am a die hard paper book lover full stop. However, I wrote an article about my experience when changing over to the Kindle Paperwhite for travel and the advantages I discovered as a result of this change. If you are trying to save space and weight in your luggage then this change-over is highly recommended. This will not only make your life less bulky but will also make you more flexible in what you read while chilling poolside soaking up the sun. Ditch the paper books for their electronic cousins even if it is just for your travels, you will not regret it.

 

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The Weigh-In:

 

Samsonite Scale

I bought a hand held luggage scale from Samsonite before a trip to Thailand and this is one of the best choices I have made recently. It has a built in tape measure which comes in handy when planning if an item can fit in your bags or not. There are more advanced ones like those that have digital readouts and so on but quite frankly, I felt this a little unnecessary. I have not regretted this decision for a moment as this analogue scale has often helped my wife and I to redistribute the weight (often her hair styling equipment) between our bags and best of all, there is no risk that we have to do a last minute repack at check-in.

 

That’s a Wrap:

 

What is very important here is to:

  1. plan your requirements in advance,
  2. purchase some Ziploc bags to keep things together and;
  3. definitely weigh your luggage before you go to the airport to avoid last minute repacking stress.

Pro Tip: I see this often with people who have had to open their luggage during transit, shoes that touch your clothing. Our shoes come into contact with some pretty nasty stuff and touching clean clothing while in our luggage is unforgivable. Pack your shoes in proper sanitary shoe bags and if you don’t have these, plastic shopping bags will work as a temporary solution if for no other reason than to be hygienic. Your clothing will stay clean and fresher for longer with no dirt and germ transfer from your shoes will wreck your fresh look.

If you have any tips to make the packing experience better, leave me a comment below as I would love to hear from you.

 

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26 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Well this was an article I definitely needed to read – I’m so sick of having to iron and straighten everything out whenever I arrive at a hotel destination! 

    I’m a bit of a frenzied packer (as you can tell), so I quite like the simple idea of making a list – gives you more insight into where everything can go inside the suitcase. 

    Do you have any decent sized budget recommendations for luggage sets?

    • Richard says:

      Hello Chris

      American Tourister I have found to be one of the best hard shell alternative bags to something like Samsonite that is a little out of my price range. The Shell is solid and light weight with all the modern features that one would find on a top of the range Samsonite. I have included the link in this response for a medium sizes bag that I own and it costs less than $110.  

      Sets are a little more difficult to answer as a set can be just 3 or it can be 5. Have a browse around this brand and I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.

      The rolling of clothing really works well and works even better if you give yourself a little bit of time to do it properly too.

      I hope you find the link useful and let me know should you have any other questions.

      Rich

  2. Christina says:

    I know you mentioned that this is an article for men, but I am a woman and I found so many useful tips in this article! For instance, I always use ziplock bags for things like charging cables, but why did I not ever think of using them for keeping socks nice an neat? Socks can be a real pain to find once they’re in that suitcase! 

    I also LOVE this pro tip: “to protect your light-coloured clothing against colour transfer from the darker garments, pack the clothing inside out and together with other light colours if possible. If this is not possible, seperate them using either compression bags or ziploc bags as described under the next heading.”

    I never even thought about how dark clothes could transfer onto lighter clothes. I love the idea of packing your items inside out so they don’t transfer. 

    This is fabulous. I am definitely going to use all of your tips the next time I travel! 

    • Richard says:

      Hello Christina,

      I started the article stating this was aimed at men as I can honestly say, women have a lot of these skills that men need to learn, like being able to plan and properly pack a suit case. 

      When one thinks of these tips, they are relatively simple to follow but have profound results. I am glad you were able to learn something new from the article and hope you are able to use them next time you travel.

      Rich

  3. Nadia says:

    Hey there Richard, 

    this is invaluable advice! My favorite packing hack is rolling my clothes. In fact I loved it so much I started rolling clothes in my dresser too! Also, every time I skip making a list I end up regretting it – make your lists folks! 

    Do you have any brand recommendations for luggage – which do you use?

    • Richard says:

      Hello Nadia,

      American Tourister makes some great hard shell luggage that I am a fan of. I have tried Samsonite (My favorite but expensive) Cellini and a few others and I keep coming back to them. The price is right for the quality of the product and it is the budget brand of Samsonite so you know you will be getting a good quality product. 

      The product I have placed a link for in this response is for the hard shell bag I currently own that I can recommend as being practical, robust and doesn’t break the bank. 

      Thanks for your personal experience and let me know if you have any further questions.

      Rich

  4. Alice A. says:

    Packing my stuff into my luggage every time I travel is never fun because I find it to be time-consuming. This is why I start packing a week before my actual flight. 

    I haven’t actually thought of having a packing list, but now that you mentioned it, I think it’s a great idea as I tend to forget a lot of things. I only remember them when I get to my destination. Admittedly, I still have a lot of things to learn when it comes to packing my luggage. 

    You’re right! Compression and zip lock bags are must-haves for me. Zip lock bags most especially because I use them to separate clean from dirty clothes. 

    Thanks for these tips. 

    • Richard says:

      Hello Alice,

      I am very fortunate to be married to someone who is obsessed with order and with that, the packing process is incredibly structured. If you are looking for assistance with regards what to pack for a certain destinations, go onto YouTube or google Blogs about the destination you are traveling to. Many times the bloggers will assist with travel essentials that will help you with the packing process.

      I am glad you were able to confirm some of the tips as practical and valuable.

      Rich

  5. Dale says:

    This is a great article.  I have worked away from home for many years so have used a few of these tricks in the past.  The biggest being rolling my clothes.  I never realized how much room it saved until I tried it.  Now that my wife and I are planning an over seas trip advice like this will come in handy.  Thanks for taking the time.

    • Richard says:

      Hello Dale,

      I have learnt these tip like you through practice as I worked a long time away from home on mines where would have to fly often. These tips saved me a lot of space and hassle and I am glad to see that others can relate to this and have had similar success.

      Thanks for your positive feedback.

      Rich

  6. Loes says:

    These are great tips to consider before you go packing. And although I am a woman, I am a very inexperienced traveler, and can definitely use some help too. Just a thought, when you use a compression before you go, you can always decide to leave some pieces of clothing before flying home again, you might be visiting a poor country, where they are probably glad with the clothes. My daughter went to Canada, a year ago, and we packed thoroughly, but they unpacked everything, and her new shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes were all thrown into the trash bin. Not allowed to take with you in airplanes!

    Loes

    • Richard says:

      Hello Loes,

      Yes the airlines are becoming really strict about their 100ml policy with almost no exceptions to the rules in this case. It is a good suggestion to leave some clothing behind for those less fortunate thus enabling you to take more back with you.

      Thanks for your personal experience and comments.

      Rich

  7. Kari says:

    I’m travelling a lot and nevertheless hasn’t found the best practices in packing. The idea of rolling clothing rather than folding them is a simple and functional way of packing and I haven’t notice it yet. It will be the first improvement straight away. Investing in a new modern travel bag helps a lot to get all the stuff being grouped logically together. In a long run you save money or at least your nerves.I will use your links for checking out the best options of travel bags. Thanks for the great info.

    • Richard says:

      Hello Kari,

      I used to commute frequently to various mines that I was working on and the tips that I have written here are tried and tested and most importantly, really work. There is nothing wrong with older luggage as a whole as one can purchase travel cubes which are like bags within the larger bag. These help compartmentalize the bag and keep things grouped as you packed them.

      It would be a good start to roll your clothing and I am happy to have helped you with some ideas for the future.

      Travel safe.

      Rich

  8. Taetske says:

    Good afternoon Richard,

    Never mind if it is considered old fashioned, making a list is a must. I remember in 1977 when I packed to go working 7 months on a cruise ship. At least 3 long dresses were required. As the cruise would last 14 days you would repeat as the passengers were new.

    When I go on a trip, like 1 week before, I write something on the list and put the item away. Like that I start collecting what I need as I do not like last moment hurry and then I forget.

    Zip lock bags are great, I also use them.

    Roll versus flat is a good idea.

    The day before leaving I pack everything and weigh it to not be stressed to have to leave something behind the last moment. This Samsonite luggage scale seems to be a clever thing as it will come handy when checking on all the shopping one does during the holiday.

    This is a good and informative post, thank you.

    Regards, Taetske

    • Richard says:

      Hello Taetske,

      Thanks very much for your personal experience about how vital these lists are. Especially when traveling to countries with specific requirements like malaria or yellow fever, these lists are a must to make sure that you cover all the requirements. 

      I have found the luggage scale a great feature as it just gives me peace of mind that I will not have a nasty surprise at the airport.

      Rich

  9. Anita says:

    Wow this is so profound and so detailed. You have really cover all grounds in packing. You got yourself a luggage scale, never thought of that though I have been made to throw away some stuff because of excess weight at the airport. I should get myself one.

    Well packing for travel from home is easy, my problem is packing after the trip to get back home. I always find like my luggage gets difficult to compress and pack especially when there are some clean clothes among a bunch of dirty clothes and shoes. What is your advise on getting everything in order on your way back home?

    • Richard says:

      Hello Anita,

      I think anyone who has ever traveled has been faced with having to toss things either at security or at checkin. The scale just makes it that much easier to plan and gives you peace of mind that when you arrive at the airport that there will be no nasty surprises waiting for you when you get there.

      In my opinion, once I have worn something on Holiday, I have a section where i refold the dirty laundry (so as not to get it mixed with the clean), then when I am preparing to return home, I pack the dirty laundry as if it were clean. That way it all fits and takes up the same amount of space as when I traveled to the destination. There will always be those fragile items bought on holiday where you can use the dirty clothing to shield it, but those will be few and the bulk of the clothing should be neatly packed again. 

      So while that might seem like a waste and a bit of a chore, neatly packing dirty laundry in your bag will make sure that it all fits and nothing gets left behind.

      I hope you found this helpful and should you have any other questions, drop me a comment and I will be happy to reply.

      Rich

  10. Bianca says:

    Thanks Richard, for putting together these great tips for packing. It’s always a good thing to be able to squeeze in as much as you can in your luggage. I’d like to add a few ideas to your post on packing. 

    When you use zip bags to seperate your clothes or other stuff, take a few extra. You might need them to use as trash bags, to protect equipment from rain/water or to put some dirty clothes in. Or even better: reuse the zip bags you packed your clothes with.

    In case you want to bring a change of foot wear, think about what you bring and what you wear. Wear your biggest and heaviest pair of shoes (like hiking boots) on the plane and pack the smaller and lighter shoes.

    And for the green minded people that don’t like making notes on your phone or tablet and love making notes by hand: try a reusable notebook. They kinda work like little white boards. You can wipe out the notes you no longer need and reuse the pages over and over.

    Have a great trip, everybody!

    • Richard says:

      Hello Bianca,

      Wow those are such great tips. Luckily Ziploc bags do not cost much so taking a few extra with is not too much of a bit deal. I have also tried to wear the heaviest items when I travel. This is a bit of a hassle in the cabin but it does reduce the weight of luggage substantially. It does help placing the heaviest items closest to the wheels in your luggage, this prevents it being top heavy and falling over.

      I am a big fan of reusable and Eco-friendly products and the white board suggestion is great. i have never thought of that before.

      Thanks for your tips and your personal experience.

      Rich

  11. TJSchlenker says:

    My wife does packing lists for each trip. I never have. It’s a good idea if you have a lot of needed stuff tho’. I DID make one for a camping trip with the boys though, since we had to think of everything we might need living in a tent for some days!

    We bought a new set of luggage about ten years back and that’s still doing great for us. There’s 7 pieces total and it gives us a lot of size options so, depending on the duration of the trip, we have what we need. Quality counts when it comes to luggage too!

    I’ve found those compression bags turn brittle after a few years and just crack apart, so I haven’t done it since our initial “trial run”.

    Oh, and yes… GO ROLLING!!! So much better than folding!!  😉

    Now if I can just remember my PHONE CHARGING CORD whenever we leave somewhere!!!!!  LOL

    • Richard says:

      Hello TJ,

      My wife does alot of our planning and packing too. She is just so much better than I am with it so I can relate to that. If older luggage is still in great shape then really there is no huge need to upgrade. Luggage cubes do help keeping clothes orderly in large compartments and if you are thinking of some upgrades to older luggage without replacing it then this is a good option.

      I cannot tell you how many cables I have left in hotel rooms, the bane of modern society.

      Thanks for leaving a comment on your personal experience. 

      Rich

  12. Laura says:

    Cool tips and I always make a list before I travel anywhere. I think it’s easy and not too much work, so when I hear friends of mine talking that they forgot this and that when they went on vacation I always have to laugh and tell them “Why didn’t you make a list?”. Always the answer is something like “I forgot” or “I don’t have time for that…” Bla bla bla… 🙂

    So everyone, just make a list! It takes a few minutes and you don’t have to worry about stupid things.

    Thanks for the tip on colour separation, that’s a good one!

    • Richard says:

      Hello Laura,

      In construction we say we never have time to do it right the first time but always time to do it twice. I think that applies to your friends that forget stuff when packing. It is a good sign that people have left comments that resonate with these simple but critical points.

      Thanks for leaving a comment and your personal experience.

      Rich

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